For those of you who are familiar with French language, you know that "pamplemousses" means "grapefruits." but in Mauritius and when written with a capital "P" it refers to the name of a village. It is situated some 11km north of the main city of Port-Louis and this is where the first French governor of the island, François Mahé de la Bourdonnais settled around the year 1735 and had his house and castle built. At this time the garden was called ‘Mon Plaisir' then it became the ‘Jardin Royal', the ‘Jardin des Plantes' and its most recent name was given in 1988 as "Jardin Botanique Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam," honoring the first prime minister elected in 1963; the international airport of Plaisance is also named in his honor.
The garden was first used to grow vegetables and fruits for the governor and his people as well as for the inhabitants of Port-Louis and to supply fresh food for the passing ships right after it was bought by Mahé de la Bourdonnais. But it was really boosted by Pierre Poivre, the king's intendant who was also a devoted naturalist who worked there from 1767 to 1772. He went to great length in order to develop the garden and managed to sneak out of the Dutch colonies of Indonesia plants which were at this time valued like gold, such as clove, nutmeg and various other species. He also introduced tea trees from China (an important local crop nowadays) and camphor trees. His successors kept working in the same spirit and when the English took over the island in 1810 they followed the same path. Mr. James Duncan who was in charge between 1849 and 1866 introduced many orchids, laurels, Norfolk's pines, bougainvillea and the likes. With a mere 25 hectares there is room for all sorts of flowers, trees, water ponds and large lawns which give the place an old-fashioned English character.
So let us park in the wide parking lot at the entrance and proceed to the entry. The Garden is open everyday from 8.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. If you happen to be Mauritian, the entrance will be free of charge on Sundays and national holidays as well as all year-round if you are under 5 or over 60 years of age. As you obviously are visitors from abroad, it will be a 100 Mauritian rupees (approximately $3 USD). Right after the entrance we will be asked by official guides if we want a tour but this will be politely turned down as I have been here before and know enough tropical flora to be your own private guide. As we enter the Garden we pass under large trees which shed some large colorful leaves on the ground amongst which are scattered some almond-looking fruits. Indeed this is the "sea-almond tree" Terminalia catappa belonging to the Combretaceae family, often seen on the shores as the fruits are carried by sea current, the seeds are very edible and the leaves are used by tropical fish enthusiasts to promote better health to their swimming pets. Here is another impressive tree, its trunk covered by aerial roots which make layers. It is one of the many species within the Moraceae family, and the Ficus elastica or rubber plant is often grown in temperate areas as indoor plant where people are very happy if it reaches two or three meters high...On the right is a nutmeg tree, Myristica fragrans from the Myristicaceae family. It originates from the Moluccas islands of Indonesia, slowly grows to 10 to 18 meters and the nuts themselves are surrounded by an orange fruit reminding of an apricot.
We are now entering the palm trees area with a large collection of those amazing plants from all over the world. We can spot the several species endemic to Mauritius such as Hyophorbe lagenicaulis, the bottle palm with its very distinctive shape, H. amaricaulis, Latania loddigesii as well as species endemic to nearby Reunion (H.indica, Latania lontaroides, Acanthophoenix rubra). An impressive double row of massive royal palm (Roystonea oleracea) from Cuba leads us to some rather monstrous looking trunks armed with sharp spikes; Corypha umbraculifera know as ‘talipot' comes from Sri-Lanka and is a giant. The palms themselves are carried by a petiole 4m long and the blade of the leaf is 5m across, making it the largest of all palms worldwide. The trunk will reach 15 to 25m after some 60 to 80 years of growing and will then flower only once. The flower cluster is held vertically on top of the tree, may reach 6m long and carry several million flowers. The small fruits will need one year to reach maturity and then the palm tree will die, it is called hapaxanthic monocarpic, a rather barbarian way of saying it will flower only once and then die...As we now gently stroll down a small creek we find other impressive palm trees, those are from Madagascar, Raphia farinifera or raffia palm and can grow to 10m tall with palms up 20m long! The infrutescences are very showy; they are pendulous and can reach 3m long, carrying large fruits covered with shining scales.
Just out of the palm trees areas we now face a large water pool with floating leaves on it, as we get closer they look like giant pie plates dark green with a purple underside and numerous spikes. The large flowers look like water lilies, this is the Victoria amazonica from the Nymphaceae family, they originate from Brazil and the leaves can be 3 to 6 feet across! The large flowers bloom white on the first day and turn pink on the second day, we can enjoy the sight of a stripped heron (Ardeola striata or Butorides striatus) patiently waiting for fish on one of those leaves. Before leaving the Garden we will stop at the tortoise's pen where can be seen giant tortoises from the Seychelles, they can weight 250kg and live over a 100 years, they are quite similar to the species found on Mauritius before men settled in and feasted on all those defenseless creatures...
We are now back to the parking, I hope you all enjoyed this little tour; for those who think like me that it was somewhat short, make sure to be back tomorrow morning for a more complete visit!